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Demystifying appeals under the World Bank’s Access to Information policy

Elisa Liberatori Prati's picture
© World Bank


This blog post is a part of the International Open Access Week blog series

Today Frances M. Allen, a Communications Officer in the World Bank’s Access to Information Policy Unit, explains how the appeals process works when a request for information is denied:

The World Bank’s Policy on Access to Information (AI), effective in July 2010, was a pivotal shift in the institution’s approach to making information available to the public. Underlying the policy is the principle that Bank will disclose any information in its possession that is not on a list of exceptions.

With the policy, the public has access to more information than ever before—information about projects under preparation, projects under implementation, analytic and advisory activities, and Board proceedings.

© World BankThe policy outlines a clear process for making information publicly available and provides a right to appeal if information-seekers believe they were improperly or unreasonably denied access to information – or there is a public interest case to override an exception that restricts access to certain information.

Over the last seven years, the World Bank has received more than 3,500 requests for information from the public.  If the information requested does not fall under any of the 10 exceptions mentioned above, the information is provided to the requestor. Case closed.  If the information requested does fall under any of the 10 exceptions, then the request is denied.  What happens next?  Requestors can file an appeal to the internal Access to Information Committee based on a violation of policy or public interest.  Should this first appeal be denied, the requestor can make another appeal to the independent external Access to Information Appeals Board which is only for violation of policy appeals.  Let’s look at one case to understand better.

In January 2015, an external party wanted to see the review of the procurement process for the dewatering of the Tamnava West Field mine in Serbia. Their request was denied by the Bank. The requestor appealed the decision and the Access to Information Committee upheld the Bank’s denial. The requestor then filed a second level appeal to the external Appeals Board.
 
The reason for the denial lay in the fact that the requestor had asked for “a copy of World Bank’s report on the Bank’s review of this procurement process.”  The AI Committee found that no single document existed that addressed this request, and that other documentation related to the Bank’s procurement review was restricted from public access by the Information Provided by Member Countries or Third Parties in Confidence and/or the Deliberative Information exceptions under the policy.   
 
The Appeals Board reviewed the case, pouring over more than 100 documents related to the request. They interviewed staff in Belgrade and Washington to understand how the Serbian government’s procurement process was reviewed.
 
The Appeals Board upheld the Bank’s and the AIC’s original decisions.  Their research and deliberations led to more in-depth conclusions about the nature of the information requested and why it fits under our policy exceptions:

  • Procurement documents, such as tender documents, bid evaluation reports and contracts are all documents which were provided to the Bank by clients, and therefore fall under the Information provided by Member Countries or Third Parties in Confidence exception.
  • Emails between Bank staff and/or external parties discussing procurement under the project were free and candid exchanges and therefore fall under the Deliberative information exception.
  • Legal opinions exchanged between outside legal advisors and in-house counsel fall under the Attorney-Client Privilege exception.   
In their work, AIAB members test each other on specific aspects of a case to ensure a fair and rigorous process. Since the launch of the policy in 2010, the AIAB has considered eight appeals and upheld the AIC decisions in six of those appeals. In the other two cases, the decision of the AIC was reversed and the documents were disclosed. All AIAB decisions are final, and are publicly posted on the Access to Information website

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